Last week, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, held its national convention. I won’t bore you with all the details, they are widely available elsewhere. There was the usual election dramas, the votes on resolutions, the motions amended, the questions called, the amendments to the amendments made and seconded, and pro/con speeches, lots of videos of various work our Synod is doing, etc. All very important things, to be sure, but in my opinion, one of the most important things my church did not do last week is fundamentally change how it understands what is it to be church, that is, to be that group of believers called, gathered and enlightened by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments, gathered by the Good Shepherd, to hear his voice and follow him, in a specific place, in a Christian congregation.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod had before it a series of proposals prepared by a task force on structure. One of the proposals was that our church should change the way we send delegates to a national convention. The task force proposed we cut the number of delegates at national assemblies in half, but what was even more significant than that, the delegates would be chosen on the basis of a system that would give more voice and vote to congregations with more members. Now this sounds perfectly equitable, in fact, that was one of the terms used to describe the reason for it.
But what may be “equitable” in the eyes of political democracy, has quite nothing to do with it, at all when it comes to the Christian congregation. The point that was apparently lost on those proposing this change is that one Christian congregation is equal to any other Christian congregation. There is nothing to be considered when it comes to how many members it has.
Why? Because the Christian congregation is the visible manifestation of the body of Christ, and our Lord’s body is beautiful no matter how large or how small. There is no essential difference between any congregation, be it a congregation of 1,000 members, or 50 members. I am very glad that we did not change this around. The proposal was effectively tabled. Here is a blog post I read today that beautifully explains why the notion that a large church is somehow more deserving of more “votes” than a small congregation is so wrong.
“Oh, it’s so cute.”
The photo is of the building in which Middletown Springs Community Church, the church I pastor, gathers each week.
The quote is something I’ve heard several times — that or something like it — typically from friends and family hailing from some steamy portion of Six Flags Over Jesus where church buildings are indistinguishable from office parks or the galleria.
Our church is “cute.” Because it’s small, old, traditional. “Cute” is the backhanded compliment for those who’d never go to a “cute” church, but want you to know they admire it and perhaps even those who aren’t privileged enough to go to a church “successful” enough for a building that is big, impressive, full-service. You know, not cute, but rather “awesome.”
But our church isn’t “cute.” It’s beautiful like a bride both blemished and perfect.
Our building is just a building, but it has stood for over 200 years on the stony soil of the oldest part of our nation, the land of Christian pillars Whitefield and Edwards, of the Great Awakenings, of Puritans and patriots, of Green Mountain Boys and hundreds-of-years-old family farms. The building is just a building but it has weathered over 200 years of harsh Vermont winters, not to mention pastors strong and weak, congregations passionate and passive, spiritual ebbs and flows of Old Testament proportions. Once upon a time the church kicked out Joseph Smith’s secretary for heresy.
Our building is just a building, but it’s not just a building. It’s a symbol of the enduring evangelical presence, small but hearty, in this least-churched state in the nation, and of the endurance of the great salt-of-the-earth people who are the church that gathers in the building for which they’re called.
The gates of hell will prevail against espresso bars and KidzTowns. But not our church.
Our church is not cute. It is epic.